I just finished reading a really good book titled, Breaking The Age Code, by Becca Levy, PhD. I recommend it. It is about Levy’s groundbreaking research, at the Yale School of Medicine, showing how our beliefs about aging impact how long and how well we live.
Before starting the book, I was already somewhat familiar with her world-class research, which has been replicated around the globe. It was the second part of the book, however, that pleasantly surprised me. In it, Levy addresses creativity and the senses, ageism, and an age liberation movement. She offers stories that introduce us to people who are aging with intention. She describes practical, concrete ways to engender pro-aging attitudes and age-just communities.
Because of COVID, my 50th college reunion was delayed a year. As I turned page 119, at the top of page 120, I read the following:
“When sixty-eight-year-old Henry Longfellow was asked to speak at his 50th class reunion at Bowdoin College, he read a poem he’d written for the occasion:
It is too late! Ah, nothing is too late
Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate …
Chaucer, at Woodstock with the nightingales,
At sixty wrote the Canterbury tales;
Goethe at Weimar, toiling to the last,
Completed Faust when 80 years were past …
What then? Shall we sit idly down and say
he night hath come; it is no longer day …
Something remains for us to do or dare;
Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear …
For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.
Even though this poem was written 150 years ago, it feels contemporary in its claims and concerns. Longfellow gently but firmly disputes the thought that old age is a time when opportunities are lost. Rather, he contends they can become recognizable for the first time, in a new form.
I used to believe in coincidence. I haven’t for several years.
Seventy-three-year-old Marc Blesoff went to his 50th class reunion at Bowdoin College this past June, 2022. He was not asked to speak there. He wrote a poem, not for the occasion:
I have loved myself
for a long, long time.
I yearned to treat myself with
My aching heart,
for me never realizing
that I loved me,
that I was there all those years,
maybe all those lifetimes,
and I just wasn’t aware
as I watched myself and waited.
Eckhart Tolle says that self-observation is an essential part of a change in consciousness. Conscious aging allows the opportunity to get closer to being the person we’d like to be. We can re-frame aging. We can all grow into something as we age — including something recognizable for the first time, in a new form.